Two Lancashire courts have been revealed as some of the best-performing in the country when it comes to civil justice cases.

Personal injury experts, Express Solicitors, researched 8,500 fast track and multi-track claims to get a clearer picture of the bottlenecks for civil justice in England and Wales, and identified significant regional differences in court delays for civil justice cases.

Preston and Burnley Combined Courts placed in the top six of courts in the country for processing cases, but still take months to complete.

Preston placed third - behind only Plymouth and Bradford - with an average wait of 173 days - more than five and a half months.

Burnley came sixth on the list with a wait of 191 days, just over six months on average.

Yorkshire and the Humber is, overall, the best-performing region of England and Wales, with an average wait time of 210 days for civil cases.

The North-West, which includes Preston Combined Court and Burnley Combined Court, and West Midlands are second and third with an average wait of 236 and 235 days respectively.

The East of England is the worst overall performer in England and Wales, with an average 350 days (almost a year) elapsing between a claim form being served and a case completing the first Costs and Case Management Conference (CCMC).

The South East is second worst, followed by the North East.

The worst court is Thanet County Court in Kent where you will be waiting 456 days - around a year and a quarter - followed by Chelmsford (426) and Reading (424).

Delays also vary considerably based on the size of claim, and in six out of ten regions, consumers have had to wait more than nine months to have their claim subject to a CCMC.

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of Association of Consumer Support Organisations  ACSO, described the figures as a kick in the teeth for access to justice, and urged the government to ‘get a grip’ of the civil justice system.

He said: “There has been plenty of publicity for delays in the criminal courts, but it’s the civil courts which are used by the vast majority of the public.

“It is completely unacceptable for people to wait a year and a half to have their cases heard.

“The government has blamed Covid for our courts chaos, but our justice system has been starved of funding for years before the pandemic.

“The rule of law is too important to be allowed to wither on the vine, and we call on ministers to address these delays with urgency.”

The data was derived from the personal injury claims team at Express Solicitors, which collated the cases on which it is representing the claimants in England and Wales and calculated how long cases were taking between serving a claim form and reaching the conclusion of the first CCMC.

The cases do not include small claims but do include those cases reallocated to the multi-track from the fast track.

Managing partner of Express Solicitors, James Maxey, said: “The data on delays is of huge concern.

“Our clients cannot move on and get back on track with their lives if they face such a long wait. Many of them have been injured in road traffic accidents, or are fighting for compensation after suffering an injury at work.

“The Government’s quarterly figures only provide a national picture so we have done our own research on regional variations, and the outcome is shocking.

“It beggars belief that a client should wait for over a year or more for their case to be heard in Chelmsford, Reading or Durham.”

Nationally, the government says consumers making small claims face a 51 week delay, while higher value cases (known as fast track and multi-track) have a delay of 74 weeks reported on a mean basis (as at Q4 2021).

Mr Maxey added: “The figures underline what a postcode lottery civil justice has become. In the same way that quality standards of other public services, such as health provision, dentistry or education are determined by where you live, the same is true for civil justice.”

He explained that his team received regular communications from courts explaining why cases have fallen through the system.

He continued: “During this year, courts have cancelled 20 trials where we are representing clients at the very last minute because there have been no available judges.

“The cost is significant; clients have often travelled miles to court (and taken a day off work) only to be told that there is no judge.”

Mr Maxwell-Scott said that ACSO will be contacting MPs whose constituencies lie in the worst-performing areas to urge them to lobby for more resources to cut backlogs.

He said: “We would like to see targets set for what ministers regard as an acceptable delay between application and hearing, backed by sufficient funding to ensure that courts have the means to meet those targets, including making sure there are enough judges to hear cases.

“There are a number of competing calls for additional funding for public services, but if the mark of a civilised society is a properly functioning justice system, this data underlines how far we have fallen in England and Wales during the last decade or more.”

The figures do not include further delays to cases that require further CCMCs or other interactions to progress through to a trial, so the overall delays are likely to be much longer.

A full list of county courts and their wait times can be found at the Express Solicitors website.